October 30, 2008
When Amex Loses, So Do You
Just had an interesting experience with American Express that I think does not bode well for the meeting industry.
I'm doing a project for a conference using an online printer. I went to charge a not-all-that-unusually high figure to cover print and postage.
I've been doing this for the same client for roughly the same amounts at the same time each of the past four years. Because he's also a good friend, it's the only time I'll advance print/postage charges on my card. Never had a problem before.
I call Amex to see what's up. They tell me that because my monthly charge total has been averaging X for the past six months, this new charge, which is higher, was automatically declined as it does not reflect my "pattern" of spending. That, and I had a Sign and Travel balance I'd been carrying.
And here I thought the whole purpose of the Sign and Travel feature was to allow for carrying a balance. Silly me.
It didn't matter that I've had this pattern of major Q4 print and postage purchases for the past four years. To Amex, it only matters what has happened in the past six months.
The representative (who was very nice) told me that if I pay my current Sign and Travel balance AND the charges I've incurred this month to date - which I haven't even received a statement for yet - then, with the approval of a supervisor, I can put through the print and postage purchase I'm trying to make.
I pay. My purchase goes through. My conference can now be marketed.
Then I ask her a question. I have an even bigger job that I need to print in three weeks. It's 3x the amount I just charged. I've also done that for four years running. The rep tells me I have to call ahead to get that charge approved. And that I may have to prepay some part of that charge in order to get it approved by Amex.
At that point, it simply makes more sense to pay by check, doesn't it?
Now, I've been a "member" with Amex since 1984. I understand they're having some difficulties. But this seems absurd.
And while I am willing to work around this because I have to get this print job out, how many potential attendees whom you're targeting for your next conference will find themselves in the same situation, trying to put through a big flight or hotel or registration fee that exceeds their six month spending "pattern", and when their purchase is declined, will just say, "Screw it," and not attend?
My guess is that it will be quite a few. For two reasons. First, it's a pain to deal with and even if it's Amex's fault and not yours... well, it rubs off. And there's a decent chance many of those potential attendees won't have the funds handy to pay off their current balances.
Second, and this is more critical, is that anything that in the way of completing the registration process is an opportunity for your potential customer to reconsider whether they really need to attend your event. As many attendees use Amex to complete their purchase, many are going to be in for a rude surprise. And my guess is, that once they're done fuming over the problem with Amex, they may discover it really wasn't as urgent to register for your event at that moment as they thought.
In other words, when Amex has a problem, it creates problems for others. And you lose.
Be prepared for it.
Yes, there are many variables out there to conflict with our attendees' decision to attend an event. These include what was mentioned here - flights, hotels, etc but also include the decreased budgets and personnel changes, including doing more with less money and less staff.
Another option is holding an event virtually. The attendees simply register and attend from where they are. Speaker sessions are produced and broadcast in HD. There's live chat, exhibitor halls and networking lounges. As our society is moving to online social methods, virtual conferences are a natural progression. Audiences are increasing in this virtual industry.
Posted by: Katherine Elliott | Jan 20, 2009 4:33:21 PM
I have got this same problem.Not feeling well.
Posted by: rainmaker | Jan 2, 2009 5:37:47 AM
We have experienced the same problem. We coordinate trade show services for most of our clients, and we pay their expenses using THEIR company charge card, sometimes AMEX.
There are ways around the problem, like you've mentioned. It just takes PLANNING. Is it inconvenient? Yes, but such is life. I question the idea of dropping AMEX b/c of this solitary issue - Their shortcoming is derived from fraud prevention, not customer service, right?
I know it might be a little bit of smoke and mirrors, with an origin in the credit crisis, but that's not exactly rare. Citi customers have some nightmarish stories about interest rate hikes and drastically reduced credit limits. Perhaps these are the standard business practices for creditors in the present economy. But jumping ship in order to find the loosest and easiest credit provider sounds like a SCARY proposition.
Posted by: Alex Goldie | Dec 1, 2008 12:39:13 PM
As the owner of a company selling the tradeshow displays and the printing I'll confirm that we're very concerned of Amex and its recent downslide of service.
If people are buying online from our site for the first time they're usually doing for price and convenience. Take away the convenience with some silly situation like Rich describes above and the "screw it" attitude becomes statistically significant.
Posted by: Advatum | Nov 19, 2008 7:24:26 PM
I've never had a problem with any of my AMEX account, because it's in my business name. I frequently book travel expenses, registration expenses and rental fees on this account, as I manage a sales staff of 15 for my company. I'm shocked that AMEX is giving such a long-standing member such a hard time.
I enjoyed the parallels you draw between the problems in the credit market and the trade show & convention industry.
If anyone else is feeling pain like this, and needs a financial break from purchasing big expensive books, or needs help promoting, a new Free Trade Show directory just went live last month: http://www.eventsinamerica.com.
From what I can tell, this site is really going to help me out, and I felt that as it's a free and can alleviate some expenses, it is relevant to bring into the conversation.
Posted by: Free Trade Show Directory | Nov 13, 2008 6:24:53 PM
I've had similar problems with Amex in lieu of recent past. I don't think the solution is canceling your card and going to another one. Diversify, maybe. I do think it's worth considering that this one case does illustrate how major, trusted names are taking cautious steps. It's a shame. They should be encouraging spending for stable customers with good records!
Thanks for the post. This blog looks very interesting, keep up the good content!
Posted by: Kelly Clarke | Nov 13, 2008 11:01:15 AM
How funny - I just had my personal amex that I use for all travel and business expenses have its limit cut in half.
I even phoned them to tell them my occupation, how I would put large charges, but like I have since I got the Amex, I would pay it off in full every month and never carry a balance.
How horrible that this has happened, and Amex used to be so customer service oriented.
Posted by: Margo | Nov 11, 2008 10:58:49 AM
You made a good point with your Amex example, but you also reinforced the feelings of many people who think Amex customer service is less than ideal. That's why many use other credit services.
Posted by: David M. Patt, CAE | Nov 2, 2008 5:08:47 PM
I think you're missing the point here. This isn't about me or my Amex account. I told my story to make the point that there are going to be problems ahead for conference organizers because some/many attendees will not be able to charge steep registration fees or travel costs at will as they have done in the past. And that will likely lead to less business, or at the very least, more customer service interactions with prospects and customers.
For the record I'm keeping my Amex. Over the balance of 24 years, they've been very good to me and for me. My bet is that these new policies won't last for long.
Posted by: rich | Oct 31, 2008 7:13:43 PM
So cancel your Amex account.
Many vendors have chosen not to accept American Express, so you shouldn't be afraid of being another one.
If a company doesn't perform to your satisfaction, stop doing business with that company.
Posted by: David M. Patt, CAE | Oct 31, 2008 6:31:53 PM
I've had the same issue. This past show I had several purchases declined and had to call to get them put through.
Now I'm spooked that I might be out to a big sponsor dinner and my AMEX gets declined which would be very embarrassing.
I've never been late and have charged up to $14,000 on a single purchase in past years. Why should I have to cross my fingers each time I take a client to dinner? Not a good feeling.
Posted by: Tim | Oct 31, 2008 4:25:35 PM
I've got the same problem. My now-preset spending limit has been reduced. Visa and Mastercard aren't so picky, are accepted in more places, and actually have better rewards. The only reason I ever went with Amex was that in a clutch moment I could be certain it worked. Not any more.
Posted by: Steve Duncan | Oct 31, 2008 8:22:37 AM
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